Looking for the Best Word? Tip #17

Word cloud via prowritingaid.com

Today’s Google search for ‘Writers Help’ brought up 58,000,000 results. One post from this series was 4th in the list and a second was 6th! So, you’re in good company if you read this post.

The series offers help for writers to make their work more varied, accessible, interesting, accurate and effective by exploring similar and dissimilar words, and for language learners.

A good thesaurus gives substitutes for the idea of a word, but not all suggestions are true synonyms. Context is vital. Placing alternative words in the same sentence to see if they actually make sense is one way of checking suitability. But it’s not foolproof, so a good dictionary is essential.

My chosen dictionary is the 2 volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. And I prefer to use the 1987 edition of Roget’s Thesaurus for word selection; it sits close. However, I try to dig the best word out of my crowded memory first: it’s good mental exercise. Other books of words, which I consult when the pertinent term evades me, live behind me, on my reference shelf.

So, to this week’s word: Hyperbole (if English isn’t your first language, you may not know that this word is pronounced ‘high-per-bull-ee’, not ‘high-per-bowl’)

Hyperbole – Roget lists these headers: trope, exaggeration, magniloquence. Under the sub-heading ‘exaggeration’ are another 88 alternatives, including inflation, enlargement, gilding the lily, exorbitance, sensationalism, stretch of the imagination, and miracle-monger.

Let’s look at usage. This word can be used in narrative and dialogue, of course. However, it’s also the name of a figure of speech, defined by the SOED thus: A figure of speech consisting in exaggerated or extravagant statement, used to express strong feeling or produce a strong impression and not meant to be taken literally: an instance of this.

‘All sensible people know politicians and many newspaper editors indulge in hyperbole from time to time in order to garner attention.’

That’s a simple enough sentence and it would be fine to replace ‘hyperbole’ with ‘exaggeration’, ‘magniloquence’, ‘exorbitance’ or ‘sensationalism’ here.

Now let’s look at examples of hyperbole as a figure of speech:

‘He ran the marathon faster than the speed of light, covering the ground so fast he was invisible and arriving at the finish only seconds after he’d started.’

‘She wore a dress so revealing you could see what she’d had for breakfast, and acres of skin spread out above the deeply plunging neckline and below the hem circling her waist.’

‘That’s the biggest, greatest, most overly expanded and exaggerated, huge, enormous lie anyone in the entire world, the whole universe, has ever told in the whole of history!’

These examples are deliberately exaggerated to show the possible effect of hyperbole.

A better, subtler example of hyperbole might be:

‘If you vote for an extremist who rejects justice, you could find yourself subject to a return of the inquisition!’

For a short introduction to this series, please click this link. I welcome your comments and suggestions here. Please use the comments section for your ideas and thoughts.

For language learners, there’s a particularly useful group page on Facebook, which you can access by clicking this link.

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